Non-Minister Ministry: Lay Ministry Involvement

(Joel 2:23-32; Luke 18:9-14) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, October 27, 2019 – UBC Digby

Joel: that little book of the Bible inspired by insects – a plague of locusts that ruin the land.

I’d invited Sharon White to read the lesson from Joel 2, but she found out she would be away this morning. I offered it to her because of one verse here, very important to her, Joel 2:25. The word of the LORD: I will repay for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you

I need to let her tell you her own experience of this verse. Suffice it to say it meant hope, coming out of a damaged youth. The years of her life that were destroyed for her, taken away, will be repaid by God.

Verse 26 also applies: “My people shall no more be put to shame.” A word from God to Sharon. Maybe you got the same message in your life? The Master says: you shall no longer be put to shame. 

What I really want to speak about today is your ministry. What you do that matters, makes a difference, is good. This week and next Sunday I am touching on the final chapters of Bicker’s book, ‘The Healthy Small Church.’ Chapter 15 is Lay Ministry Involvement. I’m calling this ‘non-minister ministry.’

A few weeks ago you had a layperson Sunday morning – planned and presented all by people who are not pastors. But even this is not what I mean. Leading prayers, scripture readings, music and preaching in the service is specialized stuff. There is so much more, in everyday life, Monday through Saturday, that is your ministry with Jesus. Everything counts in your ministry.

In chapter 2 of Joel are the famous words that say 
Then afterward (2:28-29)
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Apostle Peter quotes this scripture on the Day the Holy Spirit birthed the Church, eh? Acts chapter 2. Sounds like everyone can prophesy, and dream, and have the Spirit of God upon them. Everyone with Jesus will be empowered to do good work. Everyone. 

So, what’s your good work, this week? Your work with God? Maybe it will be Prayer Ministry. Just the praying you do, on your own. Some of it might be praying with others, but most of it will be your daily praying. Yesterday at the Council of our Baptist Association, the new Pastor at Wilmot shared about much prayer going on, and prayers being answered!

Think again that amazing story Jesus tells, of the two men saying their personal prayers in the Jewish Temple one day. The proud prayer of the proud man. The pure prayer of the broken man. Anyone can pray. But are the humbler prayers the best?

The Choir knows my pet peeve about praying before we rehearse, & before the Choir comes in here. 
“Jeff, would you pray?”
“Why not someone else?” I say. I ask. 
“But you’re so good at it,” I’m told, in the most complimentary way. And I appreciate that.
So I say, only half joking, “Well then, other people need more practice praying, if they are not as good at it.” I even put together a pamphlet of prayers for the choir – and people can pick one to use.

The ministry of prayer – out loud with others, and quietly alone – is something that changes and grows in our lives, as we follow the Saviour. I think most of us can learn a lot more about how to pray, because I know I have a lot more to learn, myself. Many of you can inspire and influence others in their prayer lives. 

Another Pastor, at Association Council, yesterday, spoke of his own coming to faith in Christ, years ago. Later on, he found out his childhood neighbours had prayed for him and for his parents every day, specifically that they would each come to Faith. Their prayers for Lloyd, who all these years later is a Pastor, were worth it.

Many things can prompt us to pray well. I have an alarm set on my phone to go off every single day to remind me, at one o’clock, to pray for people to come to faith in Jesus. Remember our Baptist Convention’s campaign called 3K43K? We want three thousand people praying every day – perhaps at 1 pm – for us to have one year soon with 3000 people baptized. 

By the way, there will be some baptisms right here soon; Joe has been washing out the Baptistery here to get it ready. Pastor Linda, from Rossway Baptist, has some candidates to baptize, on a Sunday afternoon in November. Perhaps one or more of you here are also ready to say yes to Jesus in the Biblical way of saying yes: baptism. Tell me if you are at all interested or wondering. All of you – pray for the growth of faith in people you know. 

We are Baptist Christians, and we believe each human being has direct access to the Divine. As the Monday Study Group learned last week:

SOUL FREEDOM is the historic Baptist affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government. 
(Shurden, Walter B., The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, Smyth & Helwys, p. 24)

The human soul is free to have fellowship with God. This is Good News that Jesus brings. 

So this brings me to what I could call evangelism ministry. This is also your ministry, not just the work of the pastors in the room. Many of you have ways you let your light shine for Jesus. You have good work to do, pointing out God in day to day life. There are as many ways to do this as there are people in these pews. 

When you tell a bit of your own story, you can do good work. If you let others know that they have the freedom to find God, or be found by God. They have the ability and the responsibility to follow the Path for themselves. 

Scholar Walter Shurden told of John Cuddy was the Roman Catholic priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and one of the most respected ministers in the town. …First Baptist [had him over] one Wednesday night to tell [us] all about the Catholics. During a question and answer session someone asked him, “Father Cuddy, what one thing do you admire most about Baptists?” Quickly and without struggling for a response, he answered, “Freedom.” (Shurden, Ibid, p. 27)

While He did not elaborate, he could have meant several things–[the freedom of private interpretation of the Bible, the freedom of democratic church government, the freedom from creeds, or freedom from the state. But] he could have [also] meant the freedom to choose to believe. It is at the heart of the Baptist genius. Conversion, for Baptists, is always a matter of the soul’s conviction. 

Each person makes his and her own spiritual decisions in life. We can breathe a sigh of relief when we realize that it is not up to you or to me to save someone, to make them believe, to convince them of Christ. That is the work of the Spirit. We do get to be team players and do our part to point the way. 

Let me mention one more ministry that’s yours. Let me call it Bible ministry. It is your work to read and learn and be influenced by the Scriptures. It is not the Pastor’s work to do that for you. It is everyone’s sacred privilege. 

As Walter Shurden put it: BIBLE FREEDOM is the historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the Scripture. (Shurden, Ibid, p. 9)

I think this is what must have happened with Sharon years ago, when the words of Joel were in front of her. I will repay for the years that the swarming locust has eaten. The verse jumped right off the page! Not like a grasshopper, but as a true word of hope. The abuses of her youth will be repaid by the Saviour. And they have been! Joel 2:25 lives in Sharon White today.

Meditate upon the stories of the Bible for your- self; think deeply; ask your questions; talk together. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you… (Phil 2:12-13) Theology is the study of God, and spiritual things. Theology is the work of the whole people of God. Not just for some experts somewhere. 

Speaking of experts… Dr. Randy Woodley, an indigenous, Baptist professor of Faith and Culture at a couple Christian universities, gave lectures this past week in Wolfville. He taught a lot about how people who are not whites of European descent live as Christians, and explain things. In a question period after his final talk, Dr. Woodley was asked about how believers of a different culture follow Jesus in their own way. So: how much do missionaries need to teach them about how to be the Church? How do we not end up making them westerners, like Caucasian Canadians and Americans? Randy Woodley said:

I think this whole idea of trusting the Holy Spirit to work within the people and the process… is the way to develop a contextual theology in one’s own culture.

I knew a missionary to the Ikalahan Philipinos. The whole village became followers of Christ, in their own unique cultural ways. 

I got to spend time with [the missionary. He was an old man.] I asked him, ‘What was the key for you?’

And he said, “I simply told the Stories, and I allowed them to theologize. I trusted them. I trusted the Spirit, to theologize.”

And it worked out good. Maybe sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m not sure we have the right to impose our cultures on those cultures who are trying to figure it out.

You can be trusted to figure out a lot of things about God, and about yourselves. We believe in Bible Freedom and Soul Freedom. Because we can believe that the Spirit of Jesus will be amazingly powerful in you, and you, and you, and them, and me. 

You need not be a Minister, a Pastor, to pray well enough, to help others in the right direction, or to interpret the Faith. You just need to be you, with God. The ministry of you non-ministers is the biggest part of what a congregation does anyway. Even with me and Licentiate Sharon and Rev. John and Rev. Curtis and Rev. Don, you outnumber us! You do not even need to be some kind of leader to do some of the best good things possible. Do you remember these words of Jesus? Amen Amen, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these… (John 14:12)

And you – who you are – you were created in Christ Jesus for good works, as the Bible says. (Ephesians 2:10) I am so grateful for you!

She Matters 3

(Joel 2:25-29; Romans 16:1-7) J G White

Sunday, May 14, 2017, UBC Digby

One evening last week, I happened to change my plans, spur of the moment, and go with Sharon to a community meeting not far from here, to discuss the challenges of patriarchy and misogyny in our society.  Patriarchy – the rule of males as the head of, well everything: families, societies, churches, governments, educators.  Misogyny – hatred and prejudice against women because they are women.  The meeting, of eight people, was a profound time of sharing: sharing experience and wisdom and hopes.

Today happens to be a day to celebrate women, in a variety of ways.  Motherhood is in the forefront, and every human has had a mother.  Personally, today, it just so happens that Sharon White is graduating from university, with a degree in Christian ministry – for women and men in ministry.  And, with Baptists across Canada this year, we here speak out and we act to help women become leaders, in the faith, and in their communities.  

Hundred of years before the days of Jesus, the prophet Joel proclaimed the word of God: I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…  (Joel 2:25)  

There is repayment in God’s Kindom for women who have been put down, oppressed, abused, disadvantaged.  God’s word through Joel goes on to say:  I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophecy…  Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (2:28a, 29)

Popular awareness of women’s issues was highlighted in recent years by Malala Yousafzai, of Pakistan, activist for education, beginning at age 11. Murder attempt on her life at age 15. Nobel Peace Prize laureate at age 17.  Now, at 19, made an honourary Canadian citizen.  

In our own way, we Christians, Baptist Christians, have a mission for the sake of women’s education and leadership.  Today, we focus upon our Canadian Baptist Ministries She Matters campaign:

In the first year, She Matters 1 improved access to education for girls. She Matters Too equipped women with vocational skills, business training and grants, to help her earn family income. Now it is her turn to lead!  She Matters 3 will provide enhanced learning and leadership opportunities to empower women who inspire, encourage and help others to develop their God-given potential.  

Funds and awareness in this year’s campaign will support important initiatives, including – Offering theological education scholarships to female church leaders in the Middle East and North Africa, a region in turmoil and in need of Christian witness.

We now know well, in our corner of the world, that women are called into ‘Christian ministry,’ so called.  By God’s will and grace, they go to divinity colleges, they become pastors and professors and chaplains.  Sharon White, along with other women, was just commissioned by our own Div School on Friday, and the students will graduate from Acadia this very afternoon! (That is why Sharon and I will leave this service early – to get to Wolfville on time!)

And we of Digby County are also coming ahead in terms of our understanding of Arabic speaking peoples, and all those of the Middle East.  The deeply rooted and damaging stereotypes of Ahab the A-rab, with a harem of women, or of Ahmed the [dead] terrorist, are being overcome – though it is slow progress.  

When we ponder women going to a Divinity College, do we think of those who speak Arabic, who are Christians praying to Allah, and even Baptize believers by immersion as we do?  If you read the colour leaflet in last week’s bulletin, you saw a photo of Samar, a theology student at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon.  Let that sink in again – the Arab, Baptist, theological school, in Lebanon.  Women are being trained for ministry there.

 We are part of this team across the world, and we can give to help their education. This is what She Matters 3 is about.  

It is also for – Empowering women in Rwanda by providing training on gender issues, women and children’s rights and entrepreneurship.  We have global field staff posted in nations such as this, to partner with churches and organizations there, to see that the work gets done. So, in Rwanda, Africa, we Canadian Baptists have Janice Mills, as well as Darrell and Laura Lee Bustin.  

One bit of work Janice and Laura Lee do together is to host short term mission teams.  For instance, back in January they hosted a group of eleven women from across Canada who travelled to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Among other things, they spent time with women there who had experienced serious trauma.  Through their loving presence, words of encouragement, and small acts of kindness, they showed these women that they truly matter.  She Matters!  (Tidings, May 2017, p.3)

You will notice that this Baptist mission campaign also is about – Supporting national female pastors so they are able to serve among the Chinese diaspora.  You know what a diaspora is, eh?  An ethnic group living away from their homeland.  You may well know that we Canadian Baptists have John and Ruth Chan as global field staff working with chinese young people – especially students – who are not in China.  Do you know where the Chans are serving?  In Germany.  Working with the ‘Chinese diaspora’ there.

In an update, John tells this story:

“Pastor Chan, I will be flying back to China tomorrow. Thank you and Mrs. Chan for helping me and caring for me while in Germany. I will have fond memories of the time spent here in Hannover. May God bless you two!”

The message is from a M.D. graduate. She arrived in Hannover two years before to pursue her M.D. degree. Amazingly, she graduated in only a little over two years. During her time here, she only attended Bible study meetings sporadically. But she attended every week after she finished her thesis. Not only did she attend Bible study meetings, she went to Chinese library operated by FMCD [Friends for the Mission among Chinese in Germany] to read books. She spent all her time reading different books and writing down notes fearing that she will miss some detail. She said that she was very grateful that she could spend her first Christmas (two years ago) in German at our home with a group of other new students. It made her feel welcomed into a big family.

She attended a Christmas celebration in our big family just before returning to China. When she received the goodbye gift from us, a 365-day devotions book, she was elated and said, “It is just what I need because the book includes background information on each Bible passage. It will help me to understand the Bible. I will use it every day!” We pray that the Word of God and the Love of Christ will be with her as she returns to China.  (Ministry Update Chans in Hanover, Q4 2016)

John and Ruth Chan are now about to finish their ministry there and take on new responsibilities.  It may be the Chans as well as others who will help support female pastors to Chinese people living in various other nations.

And this She Matters 3 campaign also supports – Other CBM programs which seek to educate, equip, and empower some of the world’s most marginalized women and girls.

Our quest for justice across the globe will shift our thinking about the women and girls of our own lives and neighbourhoods.  We will clear our eyes and know the better attitudes and actions we can take with our own mothers, sisters and daughters.  And with men.  Sometimes the chauvinistic ways of men can best be addressed by other men.  

The personal greetings at the end of the big letter we call Romans, included women: I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 2 …she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Let us consider the women (and men) for whom we are grateful – and why.  Make your own list today.  
Mom Joan, who bore me, and raised me to be whatever I wanted to be.
Nanna Daisy, who encouraged Faith in me.
Gramma Dorothy, who showed me I am special.
Friend Ruth, who allowed me to be a kindred spirit.
Gardener Marilyn, who exemplified enthusiasm.
Deacon Tracy, who challenged my ideas of leadership.
Wife Sharon, who shows me the deep path of love and inner healing.

Make your own list today.  For they have cared for us, nurtured our faith, challenged our assumptions, inspired our lives.  Let us strive for the freedom and good life of others, both near and far away.  She matters.  Let us act on the lessons we have learned, the love we have been filled with, the Spirit we’ve been given.  

For it is the Holy Spirit who will be poured out on all people; our sons and daughters shall have a word from God on their lips.  Even on males and females who do not get paid for anything, the Spirit will fall.  

Such is the grace of God!